Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Of the Food and Drink of Iceland in 1682.

Yesterday’s source, Salt and Fishery (1682) has some interesting seventeenth century English perspectives on the country and inhabitants of Iceland. I have never given you a piece on Iceland before, apart from several mentions of Iceland Moss (including a menu in which it featured, here,) so am delighted to be able to share this find with you.
The chapter entitled Of Iceland in Salt and Fishery covers the geography, government and laws, militia, and sundry other topics as well as the fish and fishing methods of that country, but I am of course going to focus on the food-related matter. The author of Salt and Fishery notes the commodities of Iceland, those they want, and how these are supplied - all inevitably embellished with his own opinions.
He says Of the Inhabitants:
They are a lusty, comely, affable People, accounted sincere in their Dealings, addicted to Learning, having three Universities (such as they are,) and divers of them have Travailed far; they are long Liv’d, Healthful, their Drink and Food being but mean, as we shall hereafter intimate.
Of their Commodies.
1.      They abound with great plenty of Sheep, Cows, Bullocks, Horses, with admirable Pasture Ground in the Valleys.
2.      Great plenty of most sorts of Sea-Fish, all the year, round their Coasts.
3.      They abound with many Lakes on high Mountains, well stored with fresh-Water-Fish, and with Rivers well stored with Salmon, and Salmon-Trouts, of which they sometimes take 20 or 30 at a draught.
4.      In Summer-time they have great plenty of Wild-Fowle, as Mallard, Ducks, Teal, Partridge, Wild-Geese, Plovers.
5.      In Winter-time, they have Ravens, Eagles, Wild-Ducks, Swans.

Of the Commodities they want.
1.      They have no Coals, Wood, or Trees, for Fuel or building. Some very few Sallow sans Birch growe there, but not above half the height of a man.
2.      They have no Corn or Grain whatsoever, consequently no Wheat, Barly, Oates, Pease or Beanes, consequently no Beer; some few Berries they have called Ashberries or Anberries.
3.      By consequence (as ‘tis likewise most certain upon Evidence, they have no Swine, Hogs, nor Poultry, consequently no Hen Eggs, albeit possibly some few Hens may be kept upon Corn imported by the Gentry.)
4.      No Hemp or Flax, consequently no Linnen.
5.      No Salt, Glass, or Metal, consequently no Lead, Tin, Iron, or Copper.
6.      No Fruit, good Roots, or Flowers, except Daisies and Cowslips.
7.      No Townes, Markets, Trades, or Shopkeepers.

Now these being their Defects, we shall Expiate in shewing how they are supplied.
1.The want of Coals and Fewel is supplied by Turf, which they have in abundance, Cow Dung, &c. The want of Timber is supplied ……
2.Their Drink is Milk mingled with Water. In Winter time they are forced to drive their Cattle into their Caves, and there fodder them with Hay; and many People barrel up Milk for a Winter supply, when the Cows can yield but little, for before they are driven out into Pastures they are almost famished, and reduced to exceeding Leanness.
They feed on the Ground from March to Midsummer, or longer before they are fit to Sell to such Ships as Arrive. The Inhabitants kill them not until about a Fortnight after Michaelmas, and then cutting the Flesh into Collops, the Frost will save it, and these they also Smoak-dry in their Caves or Stoves for Winter-Food, which is good Broyled upon Coals.
When they Broile them they Butter them, and indeed Iceland affords incredible plenty of Butter, as is mentioned by Olaus Magnus, Fournier, &c. which they crowd into large Fats and long Chests without Salting it, and it will have many Colours like a Rainbow, our Seamen think it not so good as Kitchenstuff.
Some few Cheese Curds they make, but I do not hear of any Cheese.
Most of their Sheep they fodder in Wintertime, in other Caves adjoining those they dwell in, and some of their Sheep and Horse make shrift to live upon the Grass under the Snow, and the Coralline Moss called Mucus Marinus.
 If a Sheepe, Cow, or Bullock die a natural death, it is accounted Vension, and I am informed, that sometimes they take out the Guts of a Cow or Bullock, and leave him standing in his Skin on Legs, or propped up in the Air of Frost all the Winter to be Eat the next Summer, and this is accounted a Rarity, because it is an Adventure, in regard of Bears that come over upon the Ice from Groenland.

Of their fishing the author says:

Their Bread is Cod caught in Winter-time and dry’d in the Frost, commonly called Stockfish. In the Summer-time they catch much of it, wherewith they make most excellent Haberdine, after the manner of Poor Jack at Newfoundland, and out of these Commodietes Flesh, Oyle, Wadmall, and Brimstone ….

As I mentioned yesterday, Salt and Fishery includes a chapter of recipes, and the first is one for stockfish, the absolutely invaluable salt-fish staple of the time:

Beat it soundly with a Mallet for half an hour or more, and lay it three days a soaking, then Boyl it on a simmering Fire about an hour, with as much water as will cover till it be soft, then take it up, and put in Butter, Eggs, and Mustard champed together, otherwise take 6 Potatoes (which may be had all the year at Seed-Shops;) [this most likely refers to sweet potatoes] Boyl them very tender, then Skin them, Chop them, and beat up the Butter thick with them, and put it on the Fish and serve them up. Some use Parsnips.
The like for Haberdine and Poor-Jack, I should be ashamed of this Receipt if we had no better to follow, and think it too mean to mention anything about Green-Fish or barrel’d Cod, but the watering or soaking before they are Boyled.


Pieter B said...

I would be surprised if the potato mentioned in the recipe were the sweet potato, which is propagated by stem cuttings and cannot tolerate even the slightest touch of frost. On the other hand, "stockfish" as described is a traditional Norwegian food known as lutefisk, or boiled salt cod served as Norwegian tradition dictates with butter, a cream sauce, and boiled white potatoes - not visually interesting but quite caloric.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Pieter. The recipes in the book were "English" - they did not purport to be from Iceland or any other country, as far as the text indicates. Stockfish was a fast-day staple in Britain and Europe, but no doubt was not prepared the same way everywhere. I do like the sound of the Norwegian version!